Aflac shares surge nearly 8 percent on New York Stock Exchange after strong quarterly report

Aflac’s first-quarter financial performance — reported Tuesday and exceeding expectations — triggered a wave of momentum for the company’s stock today.

Shares of the Columbus-based supplemental health and life insurer shot nearly 9 percent higher out of the gate, jumping $3.69 and holding most of that ground for the day as Wall Street digested the quarterly report’s impact on the firm.

Aflac shares, which opened at $42, closed up $3.26, or 7.7 percent, at $45.26 after the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company, a darling for investors and dividend seekers, reported a $785 million quarterly profit Tuesday. It pointed to stronger-than-anticipated sales in Japan, as well as a bold move to unload more than $1.6 billion in risky investments in European countries, an issue that has dogged the firm for more than two years.

Aflac Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos, in a conference call this morning with equity analysts, led off by saying his company had “significantly exceeded our financial and operational targets” for the three-month period. The company’s earnings per share of $1.68 actually surprised analysts, who believed it would be 3 cents less.

On the conference call, Aflac Global Investment Officer Eric Kirsch indicated the insurer has completed 80 percent of its investment derisking. But he offered up a note of caution, particularly with the firm still having $27.2 billion invested on the European continent.

“Europe continues to have volatility with respect to the political and the monetary situation. And we of course continue to have holdings there,” he said.

At $45.26 per share, Aflac’s stock price (Ticker: AFL) is now a little more than midway in its 52-week trading range of $31.25 to $57.39 per share.